One of the hardest parts of team performance is coordinating and aligning individual efforts. Too often everyone is working hard and trying to be as productive as possible, but they are crossing paths and conflicting on resources. If members are pulling hard, but in opposite directions and stepping on each other's toes, the team will go nowhere fast.
The key meeting that helps a team get on the same page and coordinate their efforts is the daily huddle. You might call this meeting something different, but the huddle is a quick meeting once a day, usually in the morning, where everyone checks in and talks about what they've accomplished and what they are working on next.
Unfortunately, I've seen many daily huddles that are ineffective. Below are the five most common issues in huddles and how to fix them.
1. They go too long.
The key to a daily huddle is to keep them short: under 15 minutes, ideally under ten. Too often, I see huddles that stretch to 20 or 30 minutes. If the huddle turns into a major meeting and chews up a big part of the day, people will become unfocused and will start to skip the meeting.
I'd rather see a huddle cut short than run long. I have teams set a timer for 15 minutes and have them stop the meeting regardless of where they are on the agenda. Even better is a large digital count-down timer that shows everyone exactly how much time they have left.
2. They lack focus.
It's easy for the huddle agenda to go astray. People have long lists of issues and topics they want to address and it's natural to try to resolve issues as they come up. However, this is what bloats huddles and causes them to drag out.
Keep your huddles on point by just focusing on the key items that happened since yesterday, what items are happening today, and what issues are standing in people's way. No more, no less. Anything else should be handled after the huddle.
3. People are not prepared.
Everybody needs to be prepared to make a huddle operate well. This means that they need to know what they are going to say and they are focused only on the key items that need to be communicated. If it's someone's turn to go and they have to think about what they are going to say and end up droning on about what they had for lunch, it will kill productivity.
One trick that I use is that I have a stack of index cards or sticky notes and I make everyone write down what they are doing to say. I limit them to two or three points for yesterday, today, and 'stucks,' or what they're stuck on for ongoing projects. Then, when the huddle starts, I make everyone hold up their cards to show they've written down their comments. And anyone who doesn't have written notes can't speak. This keeps everyone on point and focused.
4. Nobody is facilitating.
While anyone can facilitate a huddle, someone should be the designated facilitator each time. This person calls the meeting to order, establishes the order, keeps things moving, and identifies the items that will be followed up on after the meeting and by whom.
I like having team members rotate facilitators each week. This gives each person a chance to hone their skills while having a set routine. And by making sure everyone on the teams takes a turn, anyone can step in to facilitate if someone is missing. It also makes people appreciate how hard it is to facilitate and encourages them to come prepared and stay focused.
5. The wrong people speak.
Huddles are for team members to coordinate their work. It's an internal working meeting for the team and not for reporting on progress or coordinating with people outside the team. Often I see executives or members of other teams at huddles and they begin asking questions or bringing up topics. This will quickly kill the meeting.
Instead, I have anyone who is not on the team but who wants to attend stand back and away from the group while they meet and ask them to remain completely silent. The only reason they should speak is if they are asked a direct question by someone on the team. This will allow them to hear what's going on without interrupting the flow.
While huddles aren't rocket science, they aren't easy to master either. It's easy for them to meander and have them drag on. The best teams work hard to keep their huddles short and sweet. Done well, they will increase a team's focus and pace. Done poorly, they will become just another meeting everyone tries to avoid.